Missing Enzyme Linked to Opioid Addiction

Missing Enzyme Linked to Opioid Addiction

June 18th, 2013

Opioid addiction rates continue to skyrocket across the entire nation, forcing researchers to focus more attention on the substance’s chemical effects on the brain in regards to its heavily addictive nature. An animal study released at the Endocrine Society’s 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California suggested that a missing enzyme in the brain may increase concentrations of a protein related to painkiller addiction.

The body produces natural opioids in the form of endorphins (opioid-like proteins produced by various organs in the body in response to exercise, excitement, pain, love, sexual pleasure, and other experiences). Like synthetic opioids, endorphins give one a sense of well-being and relaxation; however, opioid drugs alter the brain’s biochemical balance of naturally-produced opioids, making the substance so addictive when introduced to one’s system and following its absence.

Whether in the form of prescription painkillers like morphine and oxycodone or the illegal form of heroin, opioid drugs remain extremely dangerous, threatening addiction even after first-time use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s recent study eliminated an enzyme called prohormone convertase 2, or PC2, in mice. Afterwards, the scientists introduced morphine to the brains of these mice, which normally binds to a protein on cells known as the mu opioid receptor, or MOR. Following the dose of morphine, researchers concluded that MOR concentrations maintained higher levels in mice lacking PC2 in comparison to other mice.

Furthermore, the study examined MOR levels in specific parts of the brain related to pain relief as well as to behaviors associated with reward and addiction. A scientific test monitored particular antibodies to identify cells showing proteins. So what does all of this science mumbo jumbo mean?

According to the study’s lead author, Theodore C. Friedman, MD, PHD, chairman of the internal medicine department at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, “This raises the possibility that PC2-derived peptides may be involved in some of the addiction parameters related to morphine. We conclude that PC2 regulates endogenous opioids involved in the addiction response and in its absence, up-regulation of MOR expression occurs in key brain areas related to drug addiction.”


Although these findings prove relevant and useful for understanding the chemical effects of opioid drugs, the study does not provide solutions to the growing addiction epidemic. Opioid addiction affects individuals of all backgrounds, destroying the lives of many family members and communities; however, treatment options do exist and continue to prove successful in the battle to regain a healthy, productive lifestyle.

-Rita Baldini, Editor

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